St. Mary's wins national honor

7/11/11 — ATHENS, GA. – St. Mary’s Health Care System today was named a Circle of Life Award® Honoree for palliative and hospice care by the American Hospital Association.

St. Mary’s was recognized for innovative programs that improve quality of care for patients near the end of life or who are living with chronic conditions. Only seven organizations in the United States were recognized, three as award winners and four as recipients of citations of honor.

According to AHA, the Circle of Life Award celebrates programs across America that have made great strides in palliative and end-of-life care. St. Mary’s is the only community hospital in the nation and the only hospital in the South to be cited in the 2011 Circle of Life program, now in its 12th year.

“St. Mary’s Health Care System has made a strong commitment to quality palliative and end-of-life care and has embedded this focus throughout the organization,” said Rich Umbdenstock, President and CEO, American Hospital Association. “They provide comprehensive care for individuals and their families through an interdisciplinary team of caregivers that includes physicians, nurses, chaplains and social workers who work to address the psychosocial, emotional, spiritual and physical needs of their patients.”

AHA highlighted three innovations in particular at St. Mary’s:

> Palliative care has been embedded throughout the hospital, from online order sets to multidisciplinary rounding in critical care units.

> Aggressive case-finding has been put in place to enlist the help of all clinical staff in alerting the hospital’s palliative care staff anytime a patient could benefit from palliative care.

> Culture change has been implemented at a community level to build understanding internally and externally that all persons deserve compassionate, high-quality care, regardless of their diagnosis or expected length of life.

“Integrating palliative care into every aspect of our system is simply doing the right thing for our patients, our community and our ministry,” said Don McKenna, St. Mary’s President and CEO. “Palliative and hospice care are highly effective demonstrations of our commitment to the sacredness of human life and the dignity of each person we serve. I am as proud as I can be of the dedication shown by our staff and medical staff, day-in and day-out, to living our Mission and Core Values in their personal practice and ministry.”

AHA created the Circle of Life award program to recognize leaders in palliative and hospice care and to promote these vital services for patients. Palliative care is a fast-growing type of care for people with serious medical conditions. It aims to control symptoms and address the total needs of the patient – spiritual, emotional and physical – while helping to meet the patient’s goals for treatment, a cure, or end-of-life care. Hospice is a form of palliative care specifically designed to enhance quality of life for people nearing the end of life and for their families.

“Our palliative care nurses, hospice staff and certified palliative/hospice care physicians have special talents and offer our patients and their families excellent guidance, comfort and compassionate care through difficult times,” said Brenda Dugger, RN, Vice President Quality and Continuing Care. “We constantly get feedback from patients and families complimenting them for their skill, knowledge, and the environment of calm they create.”

“Our palliative care program is very new – we launched it in 2009 – and our staff welcomed and embraced it,” said Tanya Adcock, RN, palliative care manager. “Providing compassionate, patient-centered care has been at the heart of St. Mary’s culture for decades, so the biggest challenge has simply been educating staff about what palliative care is. Once they learn what we do, they have been eager to get on board and make it work.”

“Our passion is for the patients and families we serve as we experience this journey with them,” said Karen Joyce, director of St. Mary’s Home Health Care/Hospice Services, which has been providing hospice care in the Athens area for more than two decades. “Our efforts over the years have been focused on improving access to hospice care throughout Northeast Georgia. We are privileged to care for newborns to centarians in both our home hospice program and inpatient hospice house. The hospice staff is dedicated to treating each person with reverence and respect as they develop their individualized life plan.”

Winners and honorees were chosen by a selection committee made up of leaders from medicine, nursing, social work, ethics and health administration. The committee focused on innovative programs that respect patient goals and preferences, provide comprehensive care, acknowledge and address the family or caregivers’ concerns and needs, and build systems and mechanisms of support to continue the program for future patients and caregivers.

In addition to St. Mary’s, other organizations recognized this year are:

> The Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, Cheektowaga, New York, award winner
> Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Palliative Care Service, Lebanon, New Hampshire, honoree
> Gilchrist Hospice Care, Hunt Valley, Maryland, award winner
> John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County Palliative Care Program, Chicago, Illinois, honoree
> St. John Providence Health System, Detroit, Michigan, award winner
> University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Supportive and Palliative Care Program, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, honoree

The 2011 awards are supported, in part, by the California HealthCare Foundation and the Archstone Foundation, based in Oakland, Calif. Major sponsors are the American Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association, National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization & National Hospice Foundation. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the National Association of Social Workers are Circle of Life cosponsors. The Circle of Life Award is a program administered by the Health Research & Educational Trust.

For more information on the Circle of Life Award, visit

About St. Mary’s
Founded in 1906, St. Mary’s Health Care System is a not-for-profit Catholic health care system whose mission is to be a compassionate healing presence in the communities we serve. Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, St. Mary’s is built on a foundation of values that include excellence, compassion, integrity and reverence for each person. St. Mary’s focuses on neurosciences, cardiac care, orthopedics, general medicine/general surgery, women’s and children’s health, and gastroenterology. The system includes a 196-bed hospital, emergency care, intensive care, home health care/hospice services, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, assisted living, Alzheimer’s/dementia care, preventive care, state-of-the art diagnostic and therapeutic care and a growing network of physician practices. St. Mary’s is proud to be the official health care provider for the University of Georgia Athletic Association and the first hospital in the Athens area to receive the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval for stroke care, heart failure care and knee replacement surgery. For more information, visit St. Mary’s website at

About the AHA
The American Hospital Association (AHA) is the national organization that represents and serves all types of hospitals, health care networks, and their patients and communities. Close to 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 42,000 individual members come together to form the AHA. Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends. For more information, visit the AHA website at